We all know the pain of the quarterback dilemma. Since 2012, Virginia has started five different quarterbacks. Last fall, Greyson Lambert - now a Georgia Bulldog - started in the season opener against UCLA as the go-to guy under center for the Hoos. Then a disastrous second quarter saw Lambert fall apart and the Bruins score 21 defensive points.
Down 21-3 with 1:20 left in the first half, London pulled the plug on Lambert and in trotted Johns. After a couple short yardage rushes by Kevin Parks, sandwiched by UCLA timeouts, Johns went full maniac and found Canaan Severin, connecting for 32 yards and keeping the drive alive on his first pass attempt. Matt kept the ball for a nine yard rush on the next play, then found Andre Levrone in the end zone for an acrobatic touchdown. Boom. 21-10.
The whole thing took 28 seconds and six plays.
Virginia eventually fell to UCLA 28-20, but it was hard not to find some positives from the game. The rest of the season Johns and Lambert split time, with Johns appearing in nine games as quarterback (played as a holder in all 12 games). He finished with 1,109 passing yards on 89-162 passing (55%) with eight touchdowns. He also rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown.
UVA Celebrity Significant Other: Brittany Ratcliffe (Soccer)
When Virginia released the post-spring game depth chart, Johns was named QB1 over Lambert. Not only was he listed as the starting quarterback, but Mike London had rave reviews for the gunslinger.
"Matt did the best job. He was the most productive, he was the most efficient. It wasn't close. If it was close, we'd still be talking about going into August camp with two guys still fighting for the same position. But Matt clearly did what he was supposed to do and led our team in a way that we think a quarterback should be able to play in order for us to be successful." -Virginia Head Coach Mike London
Lambert's transfer to the SEC reinforced Johns as the day one starter for the September 5th opener at UCLA, giving the team (and fans) a sense of security throughout the fall. Johns has had the fall to continue to build relationships with his receiving corps, something he often seemed to have over Lambert last season.
While Lambert was maybe more technically sound, Johns seemed to have a better connection with his receivers and had an ability to scramble if the play fell apart. Comfort within offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild's system will benefit Johns as he will be more familiar with the plays and options on the field. Following the 2014 UCLA loss in which he ran a running play instead of the called pass play late in the game, Johns took responsibility for mistaking the two calls. Hopefully that won't be an issue going forward.
Look for Severin to be Johns' number one target as they are not only in sync on the field, but off of it as well. The roommates and besties have worked all summer to up their game. Losing TJ Thorpe to injury hurts as he was an excellent slot option for the Hoos, but first year David Eldridge stepped up in camp as a viable replacement. Other options at wide receiver include Levrone, Keeon Johnson, and Kyle Dockins. As far as tight ends go, Stanford transfer Charlie Hopkins provides a big target, and fourth year Rob Burns brings a lot to the blocking game.
Johns will benefit from an offensive line that returns a lot of experience, anchored by center Jackson Matteo. Ideally the experience of the line will give Johns more time in the pocket and allow backs like Smoke Mizzell and Maryland transfer Albert Reid to find better openings.... which in turn will give Johns more options. Smoke also has good hands in the receiving game, making him a great target for short yardage.
Unlike Lambert last season, Johns was more likely to take the shot downfield, but had some issues on the connections (see: Duke). This, however, is something he has commented on and said to have worked on in the off season.
"There were a lot of plays left out on the field. I really dug into that film and tried to correct those mistakes over the summer, so when we have these big plays, we can hit ‘em and convert and get up on teams." -Matt Johns on the 2014 Duke game (22-45, 325 yds)
Teammates throughout the fall have lauded Johns' leadership ability, but greatly underrated is his rather entertaining presence on Twitter (whether by him or about him) and his Nolte-esque facial expressions.
When u leavin chipotle w double steak but they only charged u regular pic.twitter.com/jC7iEAK5IV— Luke Bowanko (@Lbow70) August 16, 2015
Tries to stealthily fart in class... *poops pants* pic.twitter.com/UI9DCUz4AP— Joe Spisak (@JoeSpeezy) August 12, 2015
When you watchin the Harry Potter marathon and Hermione turns into a certified fire flame pic.twitter.com/yuLqr5quM2— Luke Bowanko (@Lbow70) August 11, 2015
Ok, maybe just Luke Bowanko is funny...but Johns seems to be a good sport about all of it...and a huge Wahoo fan.
I'll say it again...The hoos never fail to impress! After the craziest possible school year, our hoos gave us the best ending— Matt Johns (@MJohns5) June 25, 2015
The only remaining question is this: what should Matt's hashtag be this season? Vote below and let us know!